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AWD vs. 4WD

I live in New England and will be needing a car shortly. My question is…which is better in the snow, AWD or 4WD? I am thinking it will be 4WD but interested in hearing from others on the subject.

In my opinion AWD is superior on snow-covered roads. 4WD is primarily for off-road applications.

You should be aware that not all AWD systems are the same, and some are better than others. The least effective, part-time AWD systems offer minimal advantages over 2WD.

You should also be aware that having AWD or 4WD can get you into a lot of trouble if you become overconfident in the vehicles abilities. These systems will get you moving when the roads are slippery, but they do nothing to help you steer or stop. We see lots of 4WD and AWD vehicles in ditches because their drivers assumed they could ignore the laws of physics.

The best thing you can do for winter driving, regardless of vehicle type, is to install FOUR winter tires. Doing so may eliminate the need for either AWD or 4WD in winter.

Thanks for the reply. I very much agree that no matter what kind of vehicle you have it doesn’t make you superman on the roads. Caution is always needed.

Are there any particular vehicles you’re interested in?

Both of my daughters just purchased new Ford Escapes and love them. However, I am looking at a 75 mile a day work commute. Although I would like the escape, just don’t thing the gas mileage will work. Heard an ad the other day for a Subura Legacy AWD sedan and thought I would check that out.
Have to say at this point I am pretty open.

I’ve owned both AWD and 4WD vehicles. I think AWD is a bit better in snow. Balance that with 4WD systems are sturdier which means less finicky about tires and more towing capacity.

If towing and high load capacity isn’t an issue for you, AWD performs better in the snow. If you have a flat tire and the tire needs to be replaced; with AWD you should replace all four tires and with 4WD just the 2 tires on the same axle. If you run a new tire with 3 older tires on an AWD car you risk multi thousand dollar repairs from a damaged transfer case.

I find good snow tires on FWD or RWD are fine for areas with significant snow. Many who live in snow country feel all season tires are sufficent with FWD. Myself I have a 4WD SUV now for towing capacity. My other cars have snow tires and are fine in the snow and I live in the mountains of PA.

While AWD cars are very good in the snow I find the cost of ownership isn’t worth the benefit. The AWD car gets 1-3 mpg less fuel economy over the life of the car. The drivetrain parts are expensive to repair when they go bad. You have more fluids to replace adding to maintenance costs. Tire replacement can add significantly to the costs. Since most of this is true for 4WD too, you really need to be sure you need AWD or 4WD before signing on for the added costs.

The last 10 years in the USA has seen a huge increase in sales of AWD and 4WD cars and trucks. About 90% of these vehicles would deliver just as good service to their owners if they were FWD or RWD. Just because you live in New England doesn’t mean you need AWD or FWD. If it is what you want, then go for either. Focus on the size and style of vehicle you want first and AWD or 4WD is a secondary consideration.

A reliable choice RAV AWD … been driving in new england snow country VT and ME for more than 10 years with RAV’s and never had any problems…of course good driving habits and tires helps as well…

The Subaru AWD system is one of the most sophisticated on the market, and Subarus get excellent reliability ratings from Consumer Reports. I’m sure you see lots of Subarus on the roads in New England. They are popular cars anywhere it snows a lot.

I own an older Legacy AWD station wagon and a 4WD Ford Ranger. I prefer driving the Legacy when there’s snow on the ground.

Even though the Legacy is AWD, I still put winter tires on it when the weather turns cold. The tires make a huge improvement in winter traction. I never worry about getting where I’m going in that car.

The only disadvantage I can think of with AWD is the need for carefully matched tires. You can’t just replace one or two. All four tires have to be as closely matched as possible to avoid damage to the AWD system. Routine tire rotation is all that’s normally needed to keep the tires matching.

There is a bit more maintenance expense with AWD or 4WD than 2WD, but that is true no matter what brand you are looking at.

There are lots of nice vehicles out there. Have fun shopping.

If you’ve never owned 4wd or awd, be aware that AWD will require extra attention from the owner about their tires. Subarus are notorious for being quite picky with mismatched tires; meaning, if you have a blow out, you’ll either have to get 4 new tires, or have the new tire shaved to match the others. You’ll also have to make sure you don’t have different brands/treads as well, this will also affect the drivetrain components and can lead to an expensive repair down the road.

The rule I go by is “4WD takes you off the road, AWD keeps you on it”

My rule is neither 4WD or AWD will keep you on the road, but both will help get you back on.  Real WINTER tyres will help with both.

I will add Subaru AWD is top tier along with Audi. The majority of the rest AWD are simply front wheel drive and occasional kick(usually too late or does not work when stuck) of rear wheels. Basically FWD+.

That being said you can get around really well with FWD equipped with true winter tires in near anything except deep stuff and steeper hills.

I have owned AWD(Subaru), 4wd(Jeep), FWD(Honda/VW) and RWD(BMW).

Winter tires make driving in winter conditions whether AWD, FWD, 2wd worry free and many times safer over all-seasons.

4WD(part-time) is good for offroad or really deep snow over your bumper. It can be a hazard in part slippery and part dry pavement as the vehicle basically wants to go straight.

I completely disagree that AWD is better then 4wd in snow.

The ONLY advantage AWD has is that you don’t have to shift into AWD. It’s always in AWD mode. So when you come across slippery or snowy roads the vehicle is already in AWD to help you keep in control. With 4wd you have to shift it into 4wd…And you can’t do that when the roads are dry…only when they are slippery to prevent transfercase lockup.

However…once on snow covered roads…4wd is superior…There are ALWAYS two wheels driving the vehicle at all times (one front…one rear). AWD…there might be 2…but could be just one…2 only comes into play when wheels start to slip…by then it may be too late. Drudging through 4" of unplowed roads…4wd will get you there…AWD maybe maybe not.

AWD the poster is interested in (Subaru) is always has a front wheel and rear wheel turning.

Also a major downfall of part-time 4wd is that engaging it disables the stability control in most car company’s. Stability control is a far superior feature to helping you safely stay on the road over AWD or 4wd anyday.

How many stuck Subaru/Audi’s(full time AWD) off the road have you ever seen in your life in New England driving?

However in the end it really depends on application as every company’s calls their non-2wd system either AWD or 4wd. Some “4wd”'s like Honda’s poor execution in the CRV/Pilot is called “real time AWD” but in the end is FWD with the rear wheels kicking as needed.

Best bet for poster is try cars branded with whatever system. It is really hard to get a pure part-time 4wd system unless you buy a truck/suv but even those have a AWD or full-time 4wd mode typically.

I will say also some poor AWD systems like the current Toyota RAV4 in deeper snow falls on it face as the traction control system used to make it “work” defeats the vehicle from moving. They have a nice mode to put into a software 4WD mode with “locked” front/rear wheels under 25MPH and it gets out of situations well. My sister has one, nice vehicle if you understand that feature. She got it stuck in 7" of unplowed snow until we figured out what that feature did.

How many stuck Subaru/Audi’s(full time AWD) off the road have you ever seen in your life in New England driving?

A few when skiing in the White Mountains. But it was during some good snow-fall…10+" snow storms and falling about 2"/hr.

Also a major downfall of part-time 4wd is that engaging it disables the stability control in most car company’s. Stability control is a far superior feature to helping you safely stay on the road over AWD or 4wd anyday.

I know that’s not true on my 4runner. Not sure of other vehicles. I have to MANUALLY deactivate traction control when in 4wd.

Best bet for poster is try cars branded with whatever system. It is really hard to get a pure part-time 4wd system unless you buy a truck/suv but even those have a AWD or full-time 4wd mode typically.

All the SUV’s I’ve owned or looked at buying are part-time 4wd…NONE were full-time 4wd…Toyota, Nissan, GMC…What SUV’s do you know of that are Full-time 4wd.

If you want REAL snow…go to upstate NY…between Syracuse and Watertown…You’ll find a LOT more SUV’s there then Subaru’s. 3-10 times more snow then any city in NH will ever see.

4wd SUV’s are a terrible choice for the poster. They have a 75 mile/day commute.

Subaru Legacy(OP mentioned) for 2010 redesign achieves 31 MPG highway with a top tier AWD system. Not sure how you can wrong if AWD/4wd is needed.

Last thing I would suggest is a Civic or Corolla for a test drive. Both are FWD however equipped with decent winter tires(Mich X-Ice) on separate rims it will be a far superior car in safety and control vs any 4wd or AWD vehicle equipped with all-seasons.

People may mention winter not needed and argue on cost. However your non-winter tires do not wear sitting in your garage or shed over the winter. Also The cost of changeover with separate rims is cheap and gets you to rotate your tires also one year with no additional cost. Don’t believe the hype about snow tires being loud, noisy, poor on dry/wet roads. Top tier Winter tires do well on both dry/wet and incredible on ice/snow/slush.

I think the Sub’s are great vehicles…I’d actually get one if I didn’t need a vehicle that can tow 3500lbs.